‘They Look Like Me’: BAME Representation in Children’s Books

Written by

The Hook Team

Published on

November 5, 2019

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Time to read: 4 minutes
BAME Representation in Childrens Books

Kathryn is Hook’s new Youth & Brand Consultant – to introduce her to the world, we asked her to spend some time thinking about a brand that she felt was changing the kids media landscape in a positive way…

As a bookish child, I loved nothing more than finding female characters that I could relate to or imagine myself as.

Little My from the Moomins series and Pippi Longstocking were two of my favourites. To me, both were strong girls who didn’t care what others thought of them… and they had ginger hair!

Finding characters that looked like me made the book feel extra special.

As an ex-teacher, I have seen that same excitement I felt when a student ‘finds themselves’ in a story they love. Unfortunately, for many children, finding a literary protagonist they can aspire to be that looks just like them can be a lot more difficult than it was for me.

BAME Representation in Children's Books

BAME Representation in Children’s Books

Nobody likes to be othered.

Grace Shutti’s video piece for the Guardian last week highlighted this fact. Despite 33% of students in school in the UK coming from BAME backgrounds they make up only 4% of the characters in children’s books.

This is made even more shocking when you consider that 42% of the lead characters in children’s books are animals or inanimate objects.

“There’s more chance of a cat or a stick being a main character in a children’s book than a non-white kid”

I loved reading ‘Oi Cat’ and ‘Stick Man’ in the classroom as much as the next primary school teacher, and no one is trying to argue that these titles are controversial. But as Shutti explains, it is problematic when ‘there’s more chance of a cat or a stick being a main character in a children’s book than a non-white kid’.

In addition to BAME representation, characters with disabilities and LGBT+ characters are just as rare in children’s popular literature. When they do feature, often the character’s disability or the LGBT+ characters ‘coming out’ is the focus of the story, highlighting a struggle to be overcome as well as the character’s ‘otherness’ (Ed Note: We recently interviewed YouTuber Olly Pike on creating LGBTQ+ characters for kids media…)

No child should be made to feel that their disability or orientation is their only story-worthy characteristic.

So what is to be done?

Knights Of Publishing – Platforming Characters that ‘Look Like Me’

Enter ‘Knights Of’ publishing.

Their motto and mission is simple: Books Made Better; Books which give a voice to the underrepresented in children’s literature. Their books feature diverse protagonists where ‘otherness’ is not the selling point, instead – just great stories!

I was excited to visit their bookshop ‘Round Table Books’ earlier this week, as it is just around the corner from the Hook office in Brixton Village.

‘Knights Of’ founders Aimée Felone and David Stevens, opened the store in 2018 (initially as a pop up). The opening of Round Table Books proved that their mission was not only supported but vital and long overdue as they sold out their initial stock in just two days!

From Sharna Jackson’s’ ‘High Rise Mystery, showcasing probably the UK’s first young black detective duo to Samantha Baines’ Harriet Versus the Galaxy’, which features the UK’s only hearing aid wearing hero with a non-binary sidekick – children of colour, children with a disability or children who identify as LGBT+ can see themselves solving crimes, taking the lead and saving the day.

In addition to the Round Table book shop in Brixton, ‘Knights Of’ titles are being stocked in some of the U.K’s largest book retailers, such as Waterstones, where they can be seen and accessed by the wide audience they deserve.

High Rise Mystery - BAME Representation in Children's BooksBAME Characters as ‘Expected not the exception’

When it comes to diversity it’s often indies like ‘Knights of’ leading the way. Companies like Detective Dot are on a mission to get children of all backgrounds to code, whilst Lottie Dolls create toys inspired by real girls and their stories. These companies are doing wonderful stand out things, but we hope that one day these won’t seem so ground-breaking.

Every child deserves to pick up a book and see themselves, not as a background character or the ‘token diverse friend’ of the group, but as the protagonist.

And when they do see themselves, this should be expected – not the exception.

Enjoy this blog? Then you might be interested in checking out our blogs on the latest Kids Toy Trends; a podcast production company that’s helping listeners discover new and exciting voices; when we should be using Womxn (vs ‘Women’) in our language; and a new trend in poetry that seems to be pissing a lot of people off

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